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Container Gardens Bring New Possibilities

by Master Gardener Tammy Borden

originally printed in our Fall, 2015 newsletter

 

Many who know me, know my mom. We’re often seen together on some grand adventure, whether traveling half way across the state to discover a new garden center or attending one of the many local Master Gardener events. It’s no surprise to many that I get my love of gardening from her and maybe just a little of my spunk, too. For those who’ve met her, you know what I mean.

Anyone who visits her yard will recognize her green thumb at a glance. Perennial beds dot her landscape, bordering a small orchard of apple and cherry trees, as well as her gooseberry bushes from which the most delicious jam on the planet is made.

She’s become accustomed to the aches and pains that 88 years of living can bring. And when I say living, it’s to the fullest breadth and depth of the word’s meaning. She doesn’t quite have the stamina she once did. The doctors can only replace so many parts to alleviate the aging process — for her, a hip and two knees. Throw in a heart condition and weakened kidneys. Many others her age might decide it’s time to hang up the garden gloves. Instead, she’s adjusted to a new way of doing things to accommodate some of her physical limitations. Don’t get me wrong, she can still run circles around most people half her age, me included sometimes.

Her garden process begins in spring with many trips to local greenhouses and quite a bit of “shopping” from my own plants that I start from seed. From there, she hauls out the planters and pots that were put away in her shed the previous fall. Bags upon bags of potting mix start filling the containers and she lovingly arranges plants in each one – impatiens, zinnias, vines, petunias, million bells, coleus and a host of others. She then puts them in her wagon and wheels them around her yard to their new home for the summer.

Container gardening has become a new passion for her. The perennial beds shrink a little each year, replaced with more containers. And I’ve recently been “commissioned” to help her with a new project to put pavers in the center of her flower ring so she can put more containers there at varying heights. With container gardening, the chore of weeding is virtually eliminated. Weeding has become her greatest gardening challenge. It requires lots of bending, stooping and physical exertion. Watering is easier, too, and to keep her plants looking as lush as possible, she fertilizes them at least once a week.

A visitor to her garden asked how many flower pots she had. At the moment, she estimated around 25 or so. After doing an actual count, she realized she had more than twice that many, at 52.

To me, her garden looks more beautiful today than it ever has. Her eye for color and flower combinations is evident with the beautiful hanging baskets and unusual pairings she creates.

If you struggle with physical limitations, consider container gardening as an alternative. The impact can be just as great, if not greater. As the summer season comes to a close, plan now for your spring containers and don’t allow those aches and pains to hold you back.

Plan a Victorian Garden

gardens_victorian_topWe’re fortunate to live in an area with many Victorian-style homes. In Victorian times, leisure time became a bit more prevalent and gardens began to expand from simple kitchen gardens to those containing plants for beauty and fragrance. The Victorian age came to be known as one of the great eras for gardening.

The Victorians were the first to create beautiful lawns — the art of growing lovely green grass became a serious pursuit. Entertaining moved onto the lawns in the form of lovely lawn and garden parties. A broad well-tended lawn, accented with a formal garden, was a must.

Victorian gardens are more formal than the cottage garden look. Plantings need to be neat and symmetrical. Flowerbeds planted with flowering plants of the same height became a popular garden element called carpet bedding. The outline of a design or motif was filled with the same color, variety and height of plants.

Gertrude Jekyll, a famous Victorian gardener and author of books on gardening, preferred the ‘herbaceous border’. This style of border grew lower plants along the edge and continued up the ladder of height with the tallest varieties grown in the back. Her philosophy of growing was that each flower should be appreciated for its own intrinsic beauty. Mixing colors, textures and heights added dimension to the flowerbed. Anyone who reads English mysteries will recognize the term ‘herbaceous border’, as it’s usually trampled when the police are searching for clues.

Fencing was an important feature of a Victorian garden. Ornate iron fences and gates allowed a view of the yard, but also delineated where one yard stopped and another began. Picket fences were considered rustic and if used was covered in vines and meandering roses. A natural fence of shrubs was preferred to a wooden one. Shrubbery planted around foundation was done out of a sense of color and design rather than an attempt to cover the foundation.  A mixed bag of shrubs might be used to add interest. Popular shrubs to use in a Victorian garden include: Vibernums, Spirea or bridalwreath, Mock Orange, Forsythia, Quince, Boxwood, and Clove Bush. The flounce of flowering shrubs like peonies and hydrangeas were enjoyed and used by Victorians in the landscape and as a way to enhance fences.

The contemporary view often follows the Bauhaus theory of less is more, but the Victorians aspired to a different philosophy. From the gingerbread lace on the front porch to the use of ferns to adorn and create a look of tropical paradise, the theme for the day was to ornament the home, the yard, and life in general. Strategic positioning of ornaments in the yard and flowerbeds brought a sense of wealth and prestige to the homeowner. Birdbaths, sundials, obelisks, and gazing balls all found their way into the Victorian flower garden and yard. The use of empty urns to adorn the entrance to the backyard was a popular choice.

The surprise end to a walk through the garden came with a place to sit for a spell. The addition of seats and benches made the garden and yard inviting. Benches made of wood could be tucked into the backyard flowerbed for resting after pulling weeds. Stone benches continued to be popular, but urns and other embellishments added to the overall theme of opulence. A seat that offered a grand view of the entire garden and landscape was a must. Cast iron tables and chairs set in the backyard presented an opportunity for dining alfresco.

An interesting thing happened to me as I researched the information for this article: while I think I aspire to have an English garden, it turns out that I’ve actually designed a modern Victorian garden. Perhaps I’ll have to start wearing a bustle and serving tea on the lawn!

Battling Invasive Tree Roots

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

When I moved to the country and a home surrounded by beautiful, mature trees, I was thrilled at the prospect of filling each corner and pathway with beautiful woodland perennials. I thought I found my paradise for growing what had become my obsession — hostas. What could be better for growing this tough, shade-loving perennial than towering trees that provided high, filtered shade? So, with shovel in hand, I began digging. In some areas, the soil was a beautiful, rich loam. But, to my surprise, I had difficulty slicing through the ground with my spade in some locations. While the soil was still beautiful, there was a mass of fibrous roots. Despite my concern, I decided to plant my beautiful established hostas that I brought from my previous home.

 

Within two years they shrank to one-third their size in the new location. The competition from the tree roots was too much for my beloved hosta to endure. Through the years I became accustomed to this battle in certain areas of my yard and have made adjustments with some success. Here are a few tips that will hopefully help if you battle a similar problem.

 

Container Gardening

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Cobalt blue containers make a beautiful counterpoint to the hosta leaves

I have a new fondness for hostas in containers. I am especially fond of cobalt blue containers, which contrast beautifully with the many shades of hosta leaves. I am overjoyed at the results. If you choose to plant hostas in containers, make sure you give
them enough room, keep them well-watered, and after they have died back in the fall, bring them into your garage. I had some hostas double in size in one season using this method. I love placing them out in the garden among other perennials. The added height and color of the containers adds interest and a great focal point.

 

Where I’m determined to plant hostas in the ground in competitive root situations, I have resorted to planting them in two gallon (or more) black plastic pots and burying them right in the ground. I left several in the ground over winter and they came up beautifully this spring. Obviously, this can eventually limit the size of your plant, so bury as large of a pot as you can and plan to lift it out every few years to divide. There are large pliable mesh containers used in the nursery trade that are coated with copper hydroxide on the inside. The chemical regulates and deters roots growth of the nursery stock planted inside the pot. When hostas are planted in containers that are turned inside-out (so the coating is on the outside), exterior roots from surrounding plants and trees are deterred from penetrating the mesh. Some online forums rave about this method and I hope to trial it this year.

Planting the Right Tree

If you plan on planting a tree with the hopes of beautiful perennials beneath its shady canopy, keep the following good and bad in mind.

The Good: Top picks for friendly tree roots
• Oak – White, Pin, Burr, and other varieties
• Ash – although the threat of the Emerald Ash Borer makes this a futile choice
• Japanese Maple
• Magnolia
• Shagbark Hickory
• Japanese Chestnut
• Ginkgo
• European Larch
• Japanese Tree Lilac
• Crabapple
• Pagoda Dogwood
• Honey Locust

The Bad: Trees with invasive tree roots • Box Elder
• Maple – Silver, Norway, and Red
• River Birch

• Beech
• Hackberry • Spruce

If You Can’t Beat ’em, Join ’em

In some locations in my yard, I have become resigned to the fact that I cannot grow hostas. I have dug them out and relocated them to a friendlier location. Rather than abandon the perennial bed completely, I have found some plants that seem to coexist with those pesky roots. While these varieties don’t thrive, they do well enough to warrant their placement:

 

• Japanese Painted Fern
• Lady in Red Fern
• Brunnera
• Lamium (ground cover)
• Sweet Woodruff (ground cover) • Perennial Geranium

 

Give some of these techniques and recommendations a try. I’m still battling in some areas, but I’m determined to win!

 

Peonies

By OCMGA Master Gardener Steve Schultz (article originally appeared in our Fall 2015 newsletter

“The fattest and most scrumptious of all flowers, a rare fusion of fluff and majesty,” wrote garden writer Henry Mitchell. Of course, he was speaking about my obsession, the peony! I’ve lost count of the different peonies in my garden, but my guess would be that I have about 25 the last time I looked. And yes, I found a ragged Coral Charm peony at Lowe’s last week that cried for me to take it home. Now I have to find that open area to plant it. That could be a bit difficult.

As we come to the fall of the year, there are often questions about seasonal care. The care really depends on the type of peony you have.

If you have the type of peonies that your great grandmother grew, it is probably an herbaceous peony. In short, it dies completely to the ground each winter. After the first killing frost, you can clean up these peonies with your clippers. I leave about three inches showing so I know where they are in the garden. I have also left the dead foliage until spring and all seems fine. The only time you really want to get rid of the foliage is when you have any kinds of mildew during the summer. Then it’s important to dispose of the foliage to prevent the spread of the mildew. Do not compost or you will simply perpetuate the problem!

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Steve’s Bartzella peony

 

Do you have intersectional peonies such as Bartzella? These are a cross with herbaceous and tree peonies. The care is identical to that of the herbaceous peonies. Simply remove the dead foliage and in spring you will see all new growth coming out of the ground. 

Tree peonies have an entirely different kind of care. Do not cut them to the ground in the fall! Their leaves, buds and flowers come off the woody stems. I wait until spring to remove any stems that seem dead. This will be obvious because they will have no leaves and will look dried out. I also put chicken wire frames and mulch around my tree peonies right before the first snowfall or below zero temps. I think that the rabbits would love a mid-winter snack and I’m not go- ing to oblige them!

Taking care of your peonies this fall will prepare them for a nice nap this winter so you can rejoice in their beauty this spring!

Some of Steve’s peonies

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Golden Glow

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At my house, golden barberry snuggled up next to a purple barberry

It’s a look that can easily be overdone, but plants with golden foliage do make striking accents when paired with contrasts like purple smokebush, sand cherry, or the black-green needles of deeply colored evergreens. In theory, they’re also wonderful for lighting up dark corners, but in practice they usually need full sun to keep their sunny color. Planted in shade they tend to fade toward bright green.

With that caveat in mind, go forth and shop! For year-round effect, there are evergreens. From arborvitae through spruces to yews, most of them come in evergold as well. The genera Chamaecyparis and Juniperus are particularly rich in gold-foliage cultivars, with offerings from several different species and a large assortment of sizes, shapes, and degrees of hardiness.

Among deciduous shrubs, you can choose from golden alder (Alnus incana ‘Aureus’), golden elder (Sambucus canadensis ‘Aurea’), golden Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii ‘Aurea’), golden mock orange (Philadelphus coronarius ‘Aureus’), and yes, you are seeing a pattern. If it says ‘Aureus’ or ‘Aurea,’ something about that plant is going to be yellow.

There is also a golden ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius ‘Dart’s Gold’), golden privet (Ligustrum x vicaryi), several spireas including the pink-flowered ‘Gold Mound,’ and if you want to go all out, yellow-berry cranberrybush (Viburnum opulus ‘Xanthocarpum’), which has golden twigs and berries as well as golden leaves.